Kew Gardens: a most magical time of year.

Kew Gardens: a fascinating and beautiful place throughout the year, but during the Christmas period the gardens open in the evening and become a brilliant luminescent wonderland. Forgive the pun, but you could say that the gardens can be seen in a different light; indeed many lights.

Our tickets were for the 5pm slot, timed for the young grandchildren, and excitedly, we entered through the Victoria Gate. It was a freezing cold frosty night but little feet, not yet feeling the cold, were eager to explore the illuminated trail that took us under the branches of the many mature and wintry trees, some planted as long ago as the 18th Century.

Trees become so graceful in the winter, their branches stretching and twisting, and as they take on a different guise you can appreciate not only their strength and age but also their elegance too; this one warm and welcoming.

Others become artistic sculptures, lit up in a range of colours.

Whilst this tree might well have arrived from outer space,

this one is just so ancient and gloriously gnarled. I worry for a moment what the effect of all these lights might have on the fauna and flora and, as if reading my thoughts, an information board appeared advising us that:

‘We carry out a full ecology report to ensure our resident wildlife remains undisturbed throughout. We protect our bats, badgers and vulnerable trees through careful light and audio placements.’

We run on happily to the Palm House now glowing purple. This enormous glass house, the first to be built on this scale was designed by Decimus Burton and was constructed in 1844 by Richard Turner. In here the environment is kept hot and humid, housing numerous tropical plants.

Across the lake fountains play in vividly changing colours,

and moving round to the other side of the Palm House, we see a line of sparkling standards and behind them the 16,000 panes of toughened glass, some of which are curved, change colour and glow red. This evening the Palm House is firmly closed, keeping those precious tropical treasures from the freezing temperatures.

Moving lights project towards us and the music playing lifts our spirits,

and little eyes are entranced.

Deciduous or evergreen, each tree glows majestically,

the light reveals just how beautiful and tactile the bark can be.

It is not just about looking up, there is much happening down on the ground; summer flowers brightly paint the path, and autumn leaves flutter across.

We follow snowflakes glowing along the dark pathway,

and Christmas crackers pull us on towards what is known as the Cathedral.

An arch made up of a multitude of tiny lights rises majestically above us. We are below the busy flight path to Heathrow and I wonder what the gardens must look like from above, the light pollution must be huge. Another information board tells us that ‘This year, 75 per cent of the lights on the trail are LED. As soon as we can, we switch everything off to ensure the Gardens remain quiet and dark at night-time.’

Looking down on us from up on high, I am glad to see a familiar character beaming down on us. My grandson dismisses him swiftly assuring me that this is not the real Father Christmas, and on he hurries.

Long-stemmed flowers drip down from the branches. We stop for a quick ride on the fairground situated in front of The Temperate House. Little feet are getting cold now and hot chocolate is much needed. While I sip my mulled wine I discover that this great building is filled with an amazing 10,000 plants, a vast collection, grown so that in time they may help to find solutions to the world’s most pressing issues, from climate change to loss of biodiversity or food security.

We cross over a bridge spanning the water frozen hard for days, and beneath us a leaf is embedded artistically in the ice,

and further out a patterned pool gleams across the surface.

We are fortunate to have such a clear evening and the moonlight adds to the magic.

Feathers seemingly float

and birds perch in the tree.

The twelve jolly days of Christmas are a delight, cleverly woven in willow by Woody Fox from Devon.

I cannot imagine how long it must have taken to hang the lights on this old Oak. We are informed that ‘Kew has its own ‘Tree Gang’ who carry out the intricate placement of the thousands of hanging lights. This ensures the trees are protected and looked after by those who know best.’

We are nearly at the end of the trail and we find ourselves looking back across the lake to the Palm House, its appearance eased into a shade of blue.

Lights beam dramatically across the lake and music plays.

and as the fountains rise in front of us, the dramatic statue of Hercules wrestles with a serpent.

We have all been entertained handsomely, children and adults together have been totally absorbed. Kew has been putting on a light show for the past 10 years with each one different. What a great way to encourage visitors to a garden during the cold winter months; perhaps in time more private gardens will follow suit.

Happy Christmas


7 thoughts on “Kew Gardens: a most magical time of year.

  1. All looks impressive! Remembering Kew 50 years ago the then Director Sir George Taylor would have been horrified! But then he was a miserable old sod! Graham

    Graham Watts Group Visits and Talks Coordinator for Norfolk 07534681596[cid:storage_emulated_0_Android_data_com_samsung_android_email_provider_files__EmailTempImage_2_TempSignature_signature_VOL-EMAIL-SIG_jpg_1668693035957][cid:storage_emulated_0_Android_data_com_samsung_android_email_provider_files__EmailTempImage_2_TempSignature_signature_Screenshot_20221117_135244_Email_jpg_1668693239626]


  2. Hi Julia – wonderful! A lovely Christmas Eve treat. Thanks for capturing your visit so beautifully and sharing it with us Julia. Have a happy Christmas and sending very best wishes for 2023.



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